Matthew 16: 24 – Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.
25 – For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it.
Philippians 3:12 – Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
13 – Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,
14 – I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Matthew 28:18 – Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Me.
19 – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 – and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
There was once an unemployed man looking for a job. In his search for work, he saw a notice in the paper that the local zoo had a job opening. He hurried over there to apply for the job and discovered that the zoo did indeed have an opening—but that the job had a very unusual position description. Apparently, their gorilla had died, and until they could get a new one, they needed someone to dress up in a gorilla suit and act like a gorilla for a few days.
They were seeking to hire a person to just to sit, eat, and sleep in the back of the gorilla cage while wearing a gorilla suit. His identity would be kept a secret, or course. And—thanks to a very fine, very realistic gorilla suit, no one would be the wiser.
The zoo offered good pay for this job, so the man decided to take it. He tried on the suit and sure enough, he looked just like a real gorilla. They led him to the cage; he took a position at the back and pretended to sleep as the zoo opened and the people began to file by.
But after a while, he got tired of just sitting, so he got up and walked around a bit. Then—getting somewhat adventurous—he jumped up and down and tried a few gorilla noises. The people who were watching him seemed to really like that. He discovered to his delight that whenever he would move or jump around, the people would clap and cheer and throw him peanuts. And the man loved peanuts. So, he jumped around some more and even tried climbing a tree. That seemed to really get the crowd excited. They threw even more peanuts. Playing the crowd, he began to throw himself into the role and grabbed a vine and swung from one side of the cage to the other. The people loved it and cheered loudly—and threw more peanuts.
“Wow, this is great,” he thought.
So, he swung higher and the crowd grew bigger. He continued to swing on the vine, getting higher and higher—and then, all of a sudden, the vine broke—-right as he was at the peak of his swing. Momentum carried him over the wall of his cage and he landed right in the middle of the lion enclosure that was next door. Well, the man panicked. I mean, there sat a huge lion not twenty feet away, and it looked very hungry.
So, the man in the gorilla suit started jumping up and down, screaming and yelling, “HELP! HELP! GET ME OUT OF HERE! I’M NOT REALLY A GORILLA! I’M A MAN IN A GORILLA SUIT! HEEEEEEELP!!!!!” The lion quickly pounced on the man, held him down and said, “Will you shut up! You’re going to get both of us fired!”
I imagine you’ll look at little closer at the animals the next time you go to the zoo! I mean, you never know—that might be a man in a rhinoceros suit! Okay—enough monkeying around. This joke is a reminder of the fact that with today’s technological advances we are very good at producing imitations: fake flowers, fake wood, fake leather, fake marble—but these things are so realistic in appearance—that it’s hard to recognize the real thing. And the reason I mention all this is because these days it has gotten harder and harder to recognize a REAL disciple of Jesus. And with that in mind, I want to direct your attention to the bulletin. You’ll note that in the place where the sermon notes usually are there is a pre-test. I want you to take a few moments and take it. What you need to do is rank on a scale of 1-10 the most important characteristics you would expect to find in a REAL disciple of Jesus.
- __ Careful student of the Scripture
- __ Zealous and active in their stand for God.
- __ Appetite for worship and prayer
- __ Consistent in worship attendance
- __ Practices Scripture memorization
- __ Not afraid of public prayer
- __ Active in affairs of local body of believers
- __ Fasts regularly
- Has a desire to stand against blasphemy and ungodliness.
- Has a firm grasp of basic, foundational theological truths.
Is everyone done? Good—now don’t worry—you won’t have to turn these in. But I do need to be honest with you at this point. You see, the characteristics cited in this pre-test have one factor in common. To be sure, they are all traits and behaviors characteristic of a disciple. However, they are listed in Scripture as traits and behaviors not of Jesus’ DISCIPLES, but rather of Jesus’ most vocal OPPONENTS, the Pharisees. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean. But, please don’t misunderstand me. The traits and characteristics listed in your bulletin are important.
- Fasting is good when done properly and in the right motives.
- Bible study is vital.
- Worship and participation in a local body of believers is essential.
But there is so much more to discipleship—and this little trick test proves that many of us don’t understand that. It shows that discipleship is indeed something that is often easily misunderstood—so let’s try and clarify things. What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? I want to share five answers to this question—with the understanding that I can’t cover EVERYTHING about being Jesus’ disciple in one sermon. So—I’m touching on what I think are five of the most important distinguishing factors.
(1) First, being disciple means being a LEARNER.
Webster defines the word “disciple” in this way: “a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.” Basically, a disciple of someone is a person who strives be like someone else—they study to LEARN how to do this. For example, if—like many people in DC these days—you are a follower of or “disciple” of Alexander Mikhailovich Ovechkin, then you strive to skate like him—play hockey like him. You might even have a dentist fix your teeth so you look like him—which the people in this next picture have apparently done. Their goal in life is to be like the great 8.
All kidding aside, a disciple of Jesus is someone whose goal it is to learn to think and act and react just like Jesus. If you’re a disciple, that’s your life’s purpose—to become more and more Christlike. That’s why you pray and fast—that’s why you read and study the Bible—that’s why you hang with other disciples.
This principle of discipleship is what Paul is talking about in our text when he says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me Heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
So—an authentic disciple is a perpetual LEARNER. And that word “learner” is vital to understanding discipleship. You see we are ALWAYS learning. We never stop learning—because we never ARRIVE at our goal of perfect Christlikeness on this side of eternity. This means if you meet a Christian who says or acts like they know it all—if they act like they have arrived—they are not the real deal. As Christians we are always learning—growing. Jesus is always TEACHING us.
NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers is one of the best pro football players of all-time, but he still listens to his coaches. Rogers says, “I love being coached! I love talking football with smart coaches. I love the input, the dialogue, the conversation.” His team’s head coach, Mike McCarthy, added, “Aaron is a really good student. He wants to be coached, and he likes to be coached hard.”
Steph Curry, one of the best basketball players in the NBA, has the same attitude. One of his coaches said, “He’s the most educable player I’ve ever known—both in terms of his willingness to listen and in his ability to absorb and execute.” You’d think these two star athletes would have “arrived” — but they are still learning—and that’s part of what makes them so good at what they do. Well, what’s true of the best athletes—is true of the best Christian disciples. They are teachable. They are on a journey of learning—growing—maturing—becoming.
Listen. Being a disciple of Jesus is not about arriving—it’s about progressing. It’s a consistent step-by-step, forward motion toward our goal that continues throughout our lives. Our adversary will try to pull us away from that goal—he’s constantly trying to trip us up. I mean, he can’t make us lose our salvation—but he can hinder our progress toward Christlikeness. And—growing disciples realize this—so they do all they can to they stay on course.
When I was the youth pastor at FBC, Damascus I thought it would be fun to take our teens on a hike on the famous Appalachian trail. So, I bought a map and made the plan. Parents would drop our group off at the Old South Mountain State Park and pick us up ten miles south at Greenbrier State park. The trail was plainly marked with white rectangles painted on trees like this one. But that day, there was a hike to benefit Muscular Dystrophy. They marked the trail with very colorful markers—signs that were a lot easier to see. They were starting on the Appalachian trail at the same place we were—and we started following the white rectangles but we ended up following the MD crowd. And eventually we ignored the white rectangles all together. At first things went well—-but then I noticed our elevation was going down—and the map said we should be going up. I realized that the MD Hike had left the trail. We were no longer making progress south toward where parents were waiting to pick us up. I looked around and realized we hadn’t seen an Appalachian trail marker for a while. We had to retrace our steps UPHILL, find and follow those white swaths. It cost us two hours. I was a very unpopular youth pastor that day. The parents waiting in their cars didn’t like me. The youth and counselors with sore feet didn’t like me.
Well a disciple is someone who keeps their goal clearly in focus—they aren’t pulled off the trail by the crowd who follows the broad road that leads to destruction. No—they stay on the straight and narrow path. They press on toward the goal of Christlikeness. The route is tough. There are times when we mess up and get off the trail—but a disciple repents of errors like that. They are serious about reaching his or her goal. They are determined—single-minded. They learn to do as Hebrews 12:1-2 advises: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.”
Now—let’s ponder this first point a bit. How would you describe YOUR progress as a disciple at this point? Are you more like Jesus today—than you were a year ago? If not—is it because YOU have followed the crowd instead of our Lord?
Here’s something else about authentic discipleship.
(2) It’s more about what happens OUTSIDE a church walls than WITHIN them.
Genuine discipleship is not what happens AT church but rather what happens AFTER church. It’s more about what happens Monday – Saturday, than what happens on Sunday. And don’t misunderstand me.
- I love our Bible study time at Redland. We are blessed to have great teachers like Bob Michael and CC Day and Roger Price and Pam Burdette and so many others.
- I love our worship—the music here at Redland is always so amazing. I love our concerts like last Sunday—and the musicals like the kids put on.
- I even hear the sermons are even pretty good.
- I cherish the time we share together as a church in fellowships like the men had last Saturday and the women had yesterday.
But real-life discipleship is not limited to these weekly or special events. Real-life discipleship has more to do with what happens when we go home from events like that.
Look around when you head to your cars later. Take a long gaze at our multi-million dollar campus.
- We have wonderful worship space—great AV with a super-laser projector.
- We have grassy areas to play—an awesome play-ground.
- We have excellent classrooms—the best youth space I’ve ever seen—perfect preschool space.
- We have a gym that is the realization of a dream—
But discipleship is more about what happens to us and in us OFF this amazing campus than on it.
REAL discipleship is about what we do OUT there with what we learn IN here.
One of God=s strongest rebukes to King Saul and the people of Israel was in 1st Samuel 15:22 following a service of sacrifice that on the surface looked wonderfully spiritual. Remember, God had told Saul to attack their enemies the Amalekites and destroy them and all they had—including ox and sheep and camel, etc. Saul defeated the Amalekites but decided ignore part of God=s instructions and spare the valuable livestock. When the prophet Samuel arrived the first words out of Saul’s mouth were a lie. He said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions!” And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” Saul tried to get out of the hole he had dug for himself by claiming he spared the livestock to serve as an offering of worship to the Lord. But the prophet Samuel was not impressed. 1st Samuel 15:22-23 says, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has rejected you as King.”
Samuel’s rebuke is a reminder to us that the real indication of discipleship is a continued pattern of obedience in our day to day lives. God is not interested in our offerings of worship on this campus as much as He is in the way we live out there in Montgomery County. In Psalm 51:17 David says, “You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”
This is what Paul was getting at in Romans 12 when he said, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your daily lives as living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” The worship of a TRUE disciple is characterized by what happens in our homes—in our schools—in our places of employment—more than by what happens in this sanctuary on Sunday morning.
Out there is where we SHOW Who we follow—not in HERE.
This week I read an interesting story about a CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. His name is Wayne Pacelle. Now—Wayne has always said he believes cruelty is wrong. He’s said he is a follower of—or disciple of—compassion. But Pacelle was fired recently because he didn’t practice what he preaches. I’m not talking about his treatment of animals—but of HUMANS. The Washington Post published an article that told of Pacelle’s coercive sexual advances toward subordinates and volunteers. The scope of the investigation widened after several female senior-level officials claimed they had previously warned Pacelle that his behavior was negatively impacting the organization. It was also revealed that several other women had been paid in settlement cases to keep them quiet about Pacelle’s behavior toward them. So Pacelle wasn’t really a “disciple” of humane treatment” was he? Sure, he loved on the animals—but the way he “loved on” female humans shows him to be a hypocrite.
Okay—evaluation time again.
What would people who know you say about your obedience to Jesus Monday-Friday?
Do you remember when Peter and John were arrested and brought before the religious leaders after Jesus’ resurrection? In Acts 4:13 it says: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men—they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Would the people who know us—the people we interact with Monday through Friday out there be able to say the same about you and me? Would they note that we are following Jesus?
Here’s something else about REAL discipleship.
(3) It is COSTLY.
As Jesus said in our text, it involves carrying a cross. Our Lord was saying it’s HARD to be His disciple—it’s HARD to live obediently toward Him in a world that so often does the opposite.
To be clear—God didn’t make it hard or complicated to become a Christian. You confess your sin and your belief that Jesus is God’s Son and that He died in your place. All YOU do is accept what HE did for you. Becoming a Christian is simple—but BEING a Christian is not. It’s hard. It’s costly.
I like something Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace—is the kingly rule of Christ, for Whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble—it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows Him.”
Too many Christians have bought into the lie that the life of the disciple is always a happy one—where we don’t have a care in the world—but that is not true. Jesus—our LORD—the One we follow—told us that “In this world you will have trouble!” And, listen to Jesus’ words in John 15. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
Okay—test time again.
Did the world hate Jesus?
Then if we are His disciples we will face hatred too.
Did they PERSECUTE Jesus?
Then if we are His disciples they will do the same to us.
Thankfully, we don’t face the persecution so many of our brothers and sisters in the world face today—not yet anyway. But we still pay a price to obey Jesus—and if you aren’t paying a price—if your life isn’t a struggle at times, there’s a good chance you are going with the flow instead of going against it.
Lee Eclov tells about a board game his family played with he was little. He writes:
“When I was a kid in the mid-50s, Parker Brothers came out with a game for church families like ours. It was called ‘Going to Jerusalem.’ Your playing piece wasn’t a top hat or Scottie dog, like in the “worldly” game of Monopoly. In ‘Going to Jerusalem,’ you got to be a real disciple. You were represented by a little plastic man with a robe, a beard, some sandals, and a staff. In order to move across the board, you looked up answers to questions in the little black New Testament provided with the game. I remember that you always started in Bethlehem, and you made stops at the Mount of Olives, Bethsaida, Capernaum, the stormy sea, Nazareth, and Bethany. If you rolled the dice well, you went all the way to a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But you never got to the Crucifixion or Resurrection. There were no demons or angry Pharisees. You only made your way through the nice stories. It was a safe adventure, perfectly suited for a Christian family on a Sunday afternoon walk with Jesus. It never occurred to me, while leaning over the card table jiggling the dice in my hand—that traveling with Jesus wasn’t meant for plastic disciples who looked up verses in a little black Bible. If you’re going to walk with Jesus as His disciple in this world, you may need to change your expectations. After all, Jesus said, ‘Take up your cross, and follow Me.’”
Here’s a fourth thing about authentic disciples have discovered.
(4) In spite of the price—following Jesus is WORTH IT!
A real disciple has discovered that even with the difficulty—even with the crosses we have to bear—nothing brings us the eternal caliber of joy and fulfillment and ABUNDANCE in life that following Jesus does. A real disciple is someone who has discovered that as Jesus said, “The thief comes to steal and to kill but I have come that they may have life in all its fullness.” They learn that life is meaningless without Jesus—that in comparison, life without Jesus is more like death than life.
I’m sure you’ve heard about the recent celebrity suicides: Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain—and too many others: Robin Williams, David Carradine, and Olympic Skier, Jerret Peterson. What you may NOT know is that suicide rates have been increasing not just in the celebrity world—but across the board—for years. A May 2013 article in The New York Times notes that from 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent. Here’s the bottom line. More Americans now die of suicide (38,364) than car accidents (33,687). I know there are many contributing factors—including mental illness—but I think one of the biggest factors—is a lack of meaning in life. This is especially seen in the celebrities who have all that this world has to offer—but they end up wanting more—yearning for something meaningful to live for. They don’t know that as Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
Disciples of Jesus are people who understand what Augustine meant. They have learned it’s not some THING that’s missing in life—it’s some ONE. Meaning in life—ABUNDANCE in life—PURPOSE that makes life in this fallen and falling world comes from knowing and serving Jesus. Only a personal relationship with Him gives us an eternal caliber of life in spite of the difficulties that come with it.
That leads to one more thing I need to say.
(5) Being a REAL disciple of Jesus means making disciples.
People who KNOW Jesus know that others NEED to know Him. They have the secret to eternal life—abundant life and so they have a passion to share it. Did you hear about the Kansas City pharmacist who was charged with diluting cancer treatment drugs to make a larger profit? His name is Robert Courtney and so far he faces 20 felony counts. He’s pled guilty. Think of it—this man held life-saving power in his hands and for the sake of personal gain diluted it to the point where it could not help people. Many INAUTHENTIC—FAKE followers of Jesus do the same thing with the Gospel. They “water down” the Gospel mandate—and in so doing lose a desire to share their faith. But a REAL disciple of Jesus is not like that. They are passionate to share Jesus with others. They have become fishers of me. They are like our Lord—who came to seek and save the lost.
In today’s text our Lords says we are to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The literal translation of this Great Commission is not just “GO” but rather “As you go.” My point is, evangelism is a lifestyle for the GROWING disciple of Jesus. A REAL disciple is always looking for ways to lead others to faith—always to be focused on people’s spiritual condition—because they know they are lost and dying without Him.
Listen this world won’t be won by church buildings—or by ROCs. It will be won by disciples of Jesus who are passionate about leading others to become disciples of Jesus. Evangelism is primarily RELATIONAL—and authentic—GROWING disciples know that.
Sue has always said that one thing she loves about me other than my hairstyle is my sense of humor. She says I have a built in “joke scanner” always looking for—scanning for—a pun. My daughter-in-law says the same thing. In fact, she gave me this t-shirt—that she made herself: “Bad puns are how eye role.”
Well, TRUE disciples have a built in “SPIRITUAL CONDITION SCANNER.” The closer we walk with Jesus—the more we become like Him—the more we develop this hunger to share our faith—where we are looking for—scanning for—indicators of where friends, neighbors, co-workers—even perfect strangers are when it comes to faith in Jesus.
Real disciples are sensitive to divine appointments. Let me tell you about one. Her name is Angie and while she was in college she wrote of her encounter with an international student just before Christmas, 2006: “I had a divine appointment on the flight from Chicago to Lincoln sitting next to a 19-year-old Saudi Arabian guy, Ali, who was on his way to begin at the University here in Lincoln. As soon as I heard that he’d never been in the U.S. before and was from the Middle East, I felt Jesus tugging at my heart. After a little chit chat about his feelings about being so far from home and asking what he knew about American culture or life in Nebraska, I told him I was a follower of Jesus. I asked about his spiritual background. I told him that he’d probably meet a number of people in Nebraska who are Christians, and said it’d probably be helpful to understand a little of where they’re coming from. I pulled out the 4 [Spiritual] Laws and read through each point with him. We talked a little bit more, and then I went to read my book. He went back to the booklet and read it cover to cover! I could hardly concentrate, I was so excited.
I prayed for him as he was reading it, thankful to have been reminded this morning in the Word that God is the one who works, convicting people of their need for him. After he finished reading, I asked him what he thought, and he said it was very interesting. As we landed I told him I’d pray for him—then was convicted that I should do it right there. Scary!!! What would this Muslim think? I asked if I could pray for him, and he immediately said yes. At the baggage claim I went over and met his cousin and invited them both to an American culture event: Christmas Eve service at our church! We’ll see! This is why I love being a Christian—it’s heart-pounding-scary at times and exhilarating when I see someone that I know Jesus wants to come to him—and I have the choice to step out in faith or stay in security.”
Are you like Angie? Have you ever felt the Holy Spirit’s tug—and stepped out in faith? Does your heart ACHE to lead more people to follow Jesus?